Crash Tested: HJC RPHA Max modular helmet

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This is the helmet I was wearing when a crashed a couple weeks ago. It only made light contact with the ground, but I’m a better safe than sorry type, so it’s being retired. That’s a shame because this new HJC RPHA Max is one of the most comfortable, quietest, well-ventilated and versatile helmets I’ve ever worn. For $460, it’s an absolute bargain.

I’ve never owned a flip-front helmet before. I’d borrowed Grant’s Shoei Multitec a few times, but it was so heavy, hot and cumbersome, those few times were enough to scare me off the category entirely. Until this funny-sounding white helmet arrived in the mail that is.

Pulling it out of the box, I was initially shocked by how light it is. HJC uses the typically harder, heavier Snell M2010 safety standard over my preferred softer, lighter ECE 22.05. But, picking up this flip-front, complete with hinges and latches and a sun visor, and holding it side-to-side with my ECE-rated AGV AX-8 Dual, there was nothing in it. AGV says a size medium of that helmet weighs 1,400g. HJC doesn’t quote a weight for the RPHA Max, but according to my hands, it’s right there with the AGV. That’s seriously impressive.

As is the quality, which was the second striking impression. The paint is smooth and thick, resisting scratching. The visor mechanism is robust, but extremely quick and easy to use. Vents are chunkily reassuring. That visor is also distortion free, triply important when you end up looking through it, a Pinlock anti-fog insert and the drop-down sun visor all at once. Even with all that, there’s absolutely no distortion during the day and only some minimal background reflections at night, just stuff like headlights and cat’s eyes and streetlamps creates a barely noticeable ghost effect with the Pinlock fitted. The visor seals totally and locks closed with a chunky, center-mounted mechanism.

I was totally won-over when I realized every badge, logo and sticker on the thing could be pealed off in seconds, creating an utterly plain exterior shell. White paint, nothing else. Thank you, HJC, for giving me the choice not to wear your ugly logos.

It helped my growing acceptance of wearing a flip-front that the helmet arrived in August, while it was approximately 1,000,000 degrees in LA. Being able to open the helmet up at stoplights or at low speeds around the neighborhood or while getting gas or whatever was just a godsend.

As was the ventilation. Initially, it doesn’t look like there’s much with only one, central, external intake on top and one chin intake. But, take a look inside and things become clearer. That central intake feeds two, large, totally exposed holes in the liner that aren’t obscured by the liner. Large ducts then carry that air all the way back to two equally large, equally exposed exhausts. It works, this thing is cool when it’s hot out. A standard chin curtain allows you to totally control the environment inside the helmet and keeps debris and other nastiness from blowing into your eyes.

The liner material helps too. It’s an anti-microbial, sweat-wicking material HJC has annoyingly dubbed “Cool4Ever.” Whatever, it works. Even in prolonged rides in 100 degree + temps, the helmet remained dry inside and the liner cool to the touch.

Despite leaving such huge gaps for ventilation, the RPHA Max (I have no idea what that stands for), is super plush to wear, with lots of padding and no contact between head and the Styrofoam. I experienced no break-in period with it, the helmet was all-day comfy from the first time I wore it.

Contributing to that comfort was astounding quietness. This is the quietest helmet I’ve ever worn, of any type. Saying that about a flip front, with its extra edges and whatnot there to catch the wind, is pretty significant. HJC claims 84db at 62.5mph, which is up there with pricey Schuberths and substantially quieter than any other helmet, all full-faces, in my arsenal.

Because of all that, I was wearing the RPHA Max (alright, I’m getting tired of writing that) everywhere, every day. Its flip-down sun visor proved as versatile as the Transitions visor on my Bell Star Matte Carbon and with that Pinlock (included as standard) fitted, it was utterly fog free. Something the Bell can’t even get close to claiming. I really fell for its looks too, which use different proportions to achieve a different effect than most helmets; the face is closer to, well, your face, which makes it look a little more anthropomorphic or natural and its overall size is relatively small. No Q-Tip effect here. The subtle contouring of the shell is also handsome, really making it look good sans all logos and graphics.

Negatives? Well, the sun visor is operated by a slider on the top/rear part of the helmet that can be a little awkward to use compared to Schuberth’s side-mount item and the slider itself feels a little plasticky. You can’t close the rear vents, meaning this won’t be a great choice for people riding in cold environments. But that’s about it.

I’m surprised I’m writing this about an HJC, a manufacturer I’d previously dismissed as budget nastiness. This RPHA Max joins the RPHA 10 and RPHA X (good grief) road-race and off-road helmets as new, high end offerings in the company’s line up. All benefit from totally revised production processes and the company’s very own new wind tunnel (I forgot to mention that the Max is more stable at high speed than that Bell Star, even when you turn your head). Part of that production process even involves human hands, used to precisely fit the varying densities of Styrofoam together, part of what contributes to the low weight. At any price, the Max would be a standout, at $460, it’s an unbelievable bargain. I’m going to try and get another one just like this.

  • John

    So, that sketchy chin mechanism that you can pop with a glancing blow from your palm didn’t fail and grind your face to pulp?

    • Wes Siler

      Doesn’t seem that sketchy to me.

      • John

        Want me to send you a video from work tomorrow? It’s the same mechanism as all the other HJC modular helmets, right?

        • Wes Siler

          Sure. All modular helmets have their weaknesses though. Anytime you’re integrating a hinge, that hinge becomes an additional failure point. Do you really think you’re getting the same protection out of a modular that you’re getting from a full-face race helmet?

          • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

            It received 3/5 stars in the SHARP test — with the helmet remaining closed for 93% of impacts. In contrast, the previous-gen SY-MAX remained closed in only 40% of the impacts. Apparently, HJC improved the sketchy lockdown mechanism significantly. Good thing — because there are many accounts on the interwebs detailing how the prev-gen HJC modulars broke their chinbars just from looking at them.

  • Aaron

    So I must be a poor bastard or something, but 460 seems steep for an absolute bargain. I’m sure it is better at everything compared to my shitty ass mid range hjc but I’ll take the 200 extra bucks and buy some groceries. Other than that, it sounds pretty bad ass and I would love to have someone give me one too!

    • aristurtle

      You’re paying extra for the modular chinbar, and that hinge, improved though it may be, is an extra point of failure that I personally find unnecessary.

      But then Baltimore is not as hot as LA, so there’s that.

  • Glenngineer

    Did you peel out all the lining and inspect the foam for cracks? When I went down in july, my helmet was abraded but didn’t look like it took any impact, and I had no head issues. I checked the foam under the lining…all spider web cracks. Saved my noggin.

    • Wes Siler

      Yeah, there’s no cracks, but that doesn’t mean there’s not damage elsewhere. My heads worth more than $460.

    • Kevin

      Shoei will inspect a crashed helmet for free and provide a report. For that reason alone, I would be hard pressed to buy another brand. Who the hell wants to see their $400 helmet fall on the garage floor and feel like they need to buy a new one.

      • Wes Siler

        I just don’t drop my helmets. How long does it take to get that free test? Helmets are like babies, you cradle them and place them in secure, soft places. Not gonna be mad if I lose one in a crash, that’s their job.

        • Kevin

          They got mine back in something like 7-10 days. I had crashed in it, but the faceplate took the hit. The inspection confirmed that it was still in good condition.

          I too wouldn’t have been mad if it was a loss, and insurance paid for a new one no questions asked, but now I have two helmets I can wear with confidence. If one gets trashed I have a backup.

    • JTB

      Even if you take out the comfort liner and inspect the crash liner you can have damage and still not see it. It may have compression between shell and EPS liner there are also sometimes added pads there also. So short of it if it takes a crash hit or a serious drop replace it. Many makes will work with you so call them and talk to them. Also insurance companies will replace them and other safety gear as part of a crash payout sometimes.

  • Mark D [EX500]

    My main (and tired, and desperately in need of a replacement) lid is an HJC, and the flip-down visor is super, super convenient. Riding all day doesn’t require another visor, and the block-by-block weather changes of SF are no problem.

    Cheap and bit nasty, for sure, but as an independent feature, I’m totally sold on built in sun visors.

    Plus, you get to pretend you’re a fighter pilot.

  • rvfrules

    Retiring a helmet that made light contact on a vent cover that’s replaceable? Better off spending the money on some draggin’ jeans instead.

    • Aaron

      No, I don’t think he would be.

      • A Green


        • Glenngineer

          +1000. Draggin jeans might save some skin, a bad helmet might mean he never gets to right about the next crash.

          • rvfrules

            It’s a bad vent cover, not a bad helmet. But the helmet industry is always happy to see people following their advice to replace lids that have sustained even the most minor superficial damage.

    • Wes Siler

      Why spend money on something I couldn’t wear in a public place? The whole point of riding in jeans is to not look like a freak. When I don’t have to look good, I’ll wear my leathers or my roadcrafter and have 100x the protection draggin jeans offer.

      • Ankur V

        The Deth Killers jeans look pretty sharp actually.

        • Wes Siler

          And again, minimal extra protection over regular jeans. The DKs are in my regular rotation, i wear them a bunch, but wouldn’t expect a significant additional amount of protection out of them, just like i wouldn’t expect a significant amount of protection out of anything that’s not proper riding gear. It’s either too little or just enough. Street wear or riding gear. Nothing in between.

      • rvfrules

        If you feel you can’t wear draggin jeans in public you must answer to a higher fashion god than most of us or really need to get laid. ;)

        • aristurtle

          No, no, it’s the new Wes Siler Method to slimming down your posterior without dieting!

  • Adrian_B

    Very pleased to read it saved your head. But, I think I’ll stick to my C3. My head is worth more than $700. ;-)
    You mentioned it was quiet. More than Schuberth? Just curious. Might be good as a back up lid.
    Get well soon!

  • nick2ny

    Country of origin?

    • Wes Siler

      Somewhere far away and fond of noodles. Like everything else we consume in America.

  • walter

    I found that RPHA stands for
    Revolutionary Performance Helmet Advanced

    Or I just made it up. Guess it doesn’t really matter here.

  • Porter

    So when are we going to get the story with the bike? I was gone for a while but I didn’t know you were sporting an RSV4 nowadays. I’d be interested to see how it faired in the crash, but also what your thoughts on it as a daily driver are. I’d always heard that it was tiny and cramped for anyone over 6 feet. Not a great street bike. I’ve not ridden it myself, so I have no opinion. Though I’d love to love it.

    • Wes Siler

      There’s also an episode of the show on it coming up.

      • Porter

        The only impression that I took from the tagged articles is that Adey thinks it sucks unless you’re pushing it hard. Which, I’m guessing you aren’t most of the time. I look forward to the episode.

        • Wes Siler

          Or, you know, go back through years and years of content on the bike. We’ve ridden on street and track, taken trips on it, created the ads for it, etc etc etc etc. Don’t be lazy.

          • Porter

            I wouldn’t say I was being lazy. I did read the first 6 articles. Unfortunately, that’s as much attention as I have to give at the moment.

  • Brad

    Thanks for the review. I think a modular helmet is in my future – this one looks like a good option.

    FYI – stickers “peel” off, and bells “peal.” Miss Shannon, my fifth grade teacher would be so proud of me.

  • andy727

    I’m on a quest to find my next street/touring helmet, and want a flip-up this time. I already bought a Nolan and it does not fit right, so its going up for sale.

    You mention the Schuberth in the article. How does it compare, not including the cost difference?

    This is to replace my 5 year old J1, which I love.

  • Ben W

    I tried the RHPA Max on this weekend. I can’t say that it was especially impressive. Yes, the size reduction is fantastic versus the standard HJC model. Still, the sun visor lever doesn’t just feel plasticky, it feels exceptionally cheap. There’s no downplaying that part. It feels like it won’t last long at all.

    Owning an Arai has me struggling to settle for noteworthy quality issues that might not bother most people. I’d rather have a Vector 2 at this price point, though.

  • Thomas Wolf

    I think I will be placing an order for an RPHA Max soon, as I can’t stand the noise of my current helmet any more. As a new rider I have been somewhat perplexed as to how only recently the helmet manufacturers have considered wind noise in their designs. I’m currently running a Scorpion Exo500 and my ears ring even while wearing 40dB earplugs due to turbulence under my helmet (shoulder shrug trick works perfectly). I look forward to the forthcoming rear-entry helmets, but they are too far out to consider. 84 dB, while still very loud, sounds like heaven compared to what I’m dealing with. Who’d have thought that properly made modulars are actually quieter than full face, which is the exact opposite of what most people will tell you.

    As for the topside controls for the sun visor, I must disagree that they are awkward. My first helmet was a used HJC IS-16 with the top-mounted sun visor controls and I prefer them to the side-mounted controls of the Scorpion. Side controls may be easy to use when cruising, but at a light in 1st (as you should always be) you have to awkwardly use your right hand to operate the controls on the left side of your helmet. Also, with gloves I find that I sometimes accidentally actuate the visor lock when operating the sun visor lever, which has led me to sit at many a light in a hot helmet with the visor down since I usually can’t find the lock with my right hand.

    Top controls are easily accessible with both hands and are simple to operate with gloves. My IS-16 is spring loaded so you just have to push the button and it retracts the sun visor. Both the release button and the slider mechanism are easy to find and actuate with a gloved hand, because you just have to push the button to release or catch the slider and pull it back, which are simple movements that don’t require much precision. The only downside is other riders may think you’re telling them about a cop ahead ;P